Frequently Asked Questions on Recent Olive Oil News
Q: I’ve suddenly been hearing a lot about olive oil. Is most olive oil in the U.S. really fake?
Tom Mueller’s recent book release has helped grow the national conversation about olive oil. While premium products such as olive oil often face problems of deception, the problems in the U.S. olive oil industry are nowhere near the level indicated in recent news coverage. In fact, 20 years of test results through NAOOA’s independent quality control program have consistently shown that brands identified with adulterated product represent less than 2 percent market share in U.S. retail.
Q: U.C. Davis conducted studies that concluded that most supermarket extra virgin olive oils aren’t the real thing. Why shouldn’t I believe them?
As stated on its website, the U.C. Davis Olive Center has a clear mission, “Enhancing the quality and economic viability of California table olives and olive oil.” Past responses to the publication of these studies can be found here:
IOC Blasts California Study July 28, 2010
U.C. Davis Study of Imported Olive Oils Flawed… April 14, 2011
U.C. Davis was only able to arrive at its much-publicized failure statistics through crafty combination of results from chemical tests rejected by the International Olive Council (IOC) and sensory analyses done by panels that stand to benefit from promoting domestic production. The tests used are referred to as PPP and DAGs; they’ve been considered and rejected by the IOC because of failure to produce consistent, reliable results. Promoters of the studies go so far as to conveniently minimize the results showing that even the recommended California and Australian oils failed the PPP tests. Additionally, of the more than 50 IOC-approved sensory panels around the globe, the studies chose to use only the two panels comprised of members that are actively working to promote sales of domestically-produced olive oils in their respective countries. If the studies were truly independent, why not use more-longstanding, more-experienced and more-widely versed panels from countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, France or others?
Q: What procedures exist to monitor olive oil sold in the U.S.?
The NAOOA follows the standards set forth by the International Olive Council (IOC), the global governing body of the olive oil industry since 1959. As part of the NAOOA’s self-initiated quality control program, olive oils, including all members’ oils, are purchased from retail outlets throughout the United States and randomly tested to check for compliance with the IOC standards. Throughout our testing program, we’ve identified instances of both domestic and foreign companies selling product adulterated with seed oils or with mislabeling that intends to pass off lower grade olive oils, such as olive pomace oil, as extra virgin. NAOOA shares its findings with government agencies to gain their support in stopping these practices and removing products packed by these companies from the market. Our results from thousands of samples collected over the years show adulteration in brands that in total represent less than 2 percent market share in U.S. retail.
NAOOA member companies each have their own internal quality controls, so the NAOOA’s testing of their products is simply another level of checking from the field. At the moment, NAOOA is the ONLY group in the United States that continues to perform ongoing, independent testing of any kind at all. Members that choose to use the NAOOA Seal subject their products not only to even-more-frequent testing, but also to panel testing. You can find the current list of retail brands using the NAOOA Seal here.
Q: I heard that only Extra Virgin olive oil is healthy and that it should taste very bitter. Is this true?
Bitterness of taste and a “burning” sensation in the throat do indicate a high concentration of beneficial polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil, but polyphenols are present in all extra virgin olive oils, including those that appeal to a mild palate. Since olive oil is a natural agricultural product, flavors often change as the new harvests occur each year. Your best bet is to explore and find a flavor that suits you and know the range of flavors can vary from quite mild to powerfully bitter. You may even find that you choose different olive oils for different cooking purposes.
If you don’t enjoy the intense flavor of highly bitter oils, you can still reap the health benefits of olive oil by choosing a milder extra virgin olive oil. Additionally, don’t discredit regular Olive Oil, sometimes referred to as Pure. Although this type has been refined to remove defects, all grades of olive oil have more monounsaturated fatty acids (the “good” fat) than other common cooking oils and are cholesterol-free, sodium-free, gluten-free and naturally trans-fat free. Olive oil can be more cost effective for high-heat cooking than extra virgin olive oil and when used in baking, olive oil helps produce delicious, moist baked goods that stay that way longer.
Q: What can a regular shopper that wants to use good olive oil do?
Knowledge is power and a critical point is that olive oil, unlike wine, doesn’t get better with age. However, if properly handled and stored, a good olive oil can last up to two years from the time it’s bottled. If the product is mishandled, i.e. exposure to excessive heat, light or air, even what started out as good oil will deteriorate – typically leading to the rancidity taste defect. So first and foremost, take care of your olive oil by limiting exposure to heat, light and air. Store it (all types!) in a cool, dark place and don’t leave the package out without the cap on.
Here are some additional tips to use while shopping at the shelf:
- Look for a best-by date that is as far out as possible.
- With proper storage a good olive oil will keep for up to two years.
- Look for quality seals, which are becoming more widely used in the U.S.
- NAOOA Seal
- California Olive Oil Council (COOC) Seal
- Check the bottle for signs of improper handling or storage
- Broken/loose seal on cap
- Orange-y color to the oil – has been overexposed to fluorescent lighting
- Look for the distributing company’s name and contact information to make sure they are legitimate.
- One example presented at a recent Senate hearing of a label of which to be leery was one that listed company initials only; it turned out the company does not exist.
- Look for a country-of-origin statement near the nutrition facts and ingredients.
- U.S. regulations require this information. Don’t be alarmed if more than one country is listed. Often oils from more than one country are blended in order to achieve a specific flavor profile.